China eases barriers for cashless foreigners to use local services

ALSO: Singapore's government LLM, China beats 5G base station target, and Malaysia telecom gives in to 5G bandwidth purchasing policy

Asia in brief Mastercard announced last week it will allow linking of its credit cards to AliPay's digital wallet without advancing the cash to a prepaid account, thus easing foreigner travel in China.

In mainly cashless China, foreigners have previously had a tough time paying for goods and services. It is estimated that around 80 percent of Chinese people have ditched carrying cash.

"By having the choice to pay cashless, via mobile devices, at tens of millions of AliPay acceptance locations across the country where QR codes are the most popular form of payment, Mastercard cardholders from around the globe will have the option to transact with ease and convenience while in China, just like locals do," explained the credit card giant.

Mastercard said the effort expands on a partnership established in 2019. The top two payment systems in China, AliPay and WeChat Pay, have been accessible via foreign credit cards on a limited scale since that year. WeChat Pay, known domestically as Weixin Pay, will also be more accessible soon, according to parent company Tencent.

Tencent said WeChat users could link Visa, Mastercard, JCB or Discover card to access merchants.

"It will be the same as how local Chinese would pay for things. There's almost no difference in experience," Tencent veep Royal Chen reportedly said at a World Economic Forum event in Tianjin last Wednesday.

"Previously, Chinese regulators encouraged the refinement of mobile payment solutions for visitors to improve their payment experience," explained Tencent.

Both Tencent and Mastercard cited resumption of travel as reasons for broadening access to payment systems.

Singapore began building its public facing LLM one month after ChatGPT debuted

Singapore is in the process of building a public facing large language model for government services, said minister of state for communications and information Janil Puthucheary at a conference last Tuesday. Puthucheary said a team from the government's digital services statutory board, GovTech, began working on the model, called PAIR, just one month after ChatGPT was first announced.

"Our team has moved quite fast in trying to harness artificial intelligence for the public good," said the minister.

Around 4,000 civil servants are currently using the writing, research and coding AI bot, which will eventually be rolled out to over 150,000 government staff.

Puthucheary said current guidelines make it "very clear" that public officers are responsible for monitoring for accuracy and plagiarism, and there is a process in place for detecting the latter.

"Once we have an application that is public facing, we will have to have even higher standards that will need to be met before even beta testing starts," he said.

China ramps up its 5G base stations

China increased its number of 5G base stations by 600,000 between April and June of this year, taking its total number to 2.9 million, according to the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The 2.9 million figure was a goal to have completed by the end of 2023, which means the country has completed the growth six months early. According to state-sponsored media, MIIT's Zhao Zhiguo said China was boosting both 5G and accelerating 6G R&D to help build into a manufacturing hub and digital economic power.

Morgan Stanley removes one third of its China-based technologists from the mainland

US investment bank Morgan Stanley is reportedly moving 200 technology developers out of mainland China due to tightened regulations on how data is stored onshore in the country.

The number accounts for one third of Morgan Stanley's mainland technologists. They are expected to be relocated to Hong Kong and Singapore. The bank will reportedly create a standalone system in China to be more able to comply with restrictions – however, it will be incompatible with legacy platforms used globally.

HP will further diversity its supply chain

Computer maker HP blogged it was reinforcing its supply chain for resilience through efforts that include expanding "incremental" notebook PC production in Mexico.

HP also said it was continuing to expand in Southeast Asia, where it already has "well-established manufacturing operations."

"The past few years have reinforced that we must also design our supply chain for resilience. This means having a multi-source strategy for key components, as well as manufacturing capacity in strategic locations around the globe so we're prepared for potential disruptions," said HP.

The blog post appeared the same day reports surfaced that the Silicon Valley pioneer was further diversifying its supply chain out of China by moving computer production to Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam starting next year.

HP will reportedly produce up to five million units outside of the Middle Kingdom.

Malaysia telecom company gives in to country's unusual 5G arrangement

After some back and forth, Malaysia mobile operator Maxis has agreed to use the country's state-owned 5G network.

“Maxis Bhd's wholly-owned subsidiary, Maxis Broadband, will execute an Access Agreement for Maxis to obtain wholesale access to 5G products and services provided by Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB) including national 5G wholesale network products," read a statement posted on the government's website last weekend.

While most countries allocate bands of 5G spectrum to telecom companies, Malaysia has taken a different route of keeping it owned and operated by a state-run company, DNB, and charging carriers to access the spectrum – much to the chagrin of major operators Maxis and U Mobile.

U Mobile decided resistance was futile and gave in to the system late last year.

While Maxis said the decision is because of its commitment to realise Malaysia's digital ambitions while enhancing Maxis's network solutions, it also made note that "DNB remains the sole neutral wholesale network provider to implement the deployment of 5G infrastructure and networks throughout the country at the appropriate practicable date."

In other news …

Our regional coverage last week included news that the government-in-exile in Myanmar intends to keep on governing, under the nose of the military junta, by setting up a cryptocurrency economy.

Singapore is not letting its tiny size stop it from building tourist attractions – they'll just be in virtual reality.

China wants to make the so-called Great Firewall even tougher, to maintain Party control over the internet.

Samsung reckons it's sorted out the kinks in its 2nm process, and can match rivals from Taiwan and Japan.

The US Semiconductor Association has called on Beijing and Washington to chill out and take a second, before trade restrictions get too far out of hand.

Nonetheless, the US Congress is investigating whether US firms ought not to be investing in Chinese AI research.

TSMS warns that it's having trouble finding enough people with the right skills, and its plans to build a fab in Arizona are falling behind.

Giant Indian outsourcer Infosys announced several billion dollars worth of new business, right before quarterly results that were predicted to be dire. ®

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